Nearly Half of Affluent Americans Gave for Pandemic Relief

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The FINANCIAL –In a year dramatically disrupted by the pandemic, affluent Americans’ generosity didn’t waver, according to preliminary findings from the 2021 Bank of America Study of Philanthropy: Charitable Giving by Affluent Households. The vast majority of affluent Americans, nearly 90%, gave to charity in 2020. And nearly half (47%) donated to charitable organizations or financially supported individuals or businesses in direct response to the pandemic.

Preliminary findings from this nationwide survey of more than 1,600 affluent households1, conducted in collaboration with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, revealed three distinct shifts in giving behavior related to the pandemic:

An increase in supporting local community needs
An increase in unrestricted gifts to a variety of nonprofit organizations
An increase in virtual interactions between nonprofits and donors
Additional ways in which affluent households responded to this historic period included:

In response to the pandemic, 93% of households maintained or increased their giving to frontline organizations providing basic needs, healthcare and medicine; 85% of households maintained or increased their giving for spiritual and religious purposes; and 94% of households maintained or increased their giving for other purposes (e.g., education, the arts, and the environment).

Despite the constraints of social distancing and other challenges brought on by the pandemic, one in three affluent Americans (30%) volunteered during 2020. Among those who volunteered, 71% either maintained (48%) or increased (23%) their volunteering activities.

“Philanthropic households rose to the extraordinary challenges presented by the pandemic,” said Ann Limberg, head of Philanthropic, Bank of America Private Bank. “This sustained commitment by donors shows the importance of a strategic approach to philanthropy that is still flexible enough to respond to a sudden surge in need. It is also a testament to the resilience of those charitable organizations that were able to pivot and effectively use technology to engage with donors during such difficult times.”

Donors focused on meeting local needs

In response to the pandemic, affluent households focused their efforts primarily on the communities in which they live, increasing their support of local charities, individuals and businesses. Ninety percent (90%) of affluent households that increased their giving for basic needs and medical care in 2020 directed their donations to organizations in their own communities, 35% supported U.S. organizations outside of their community, and 15% gave internationally.

Unrestricted donations gave recipients flexibility

While donors often place restrictions on how or where their gifts may be spent, many donors gave general current use (i.e., unrestricted) gifts in 2020, allowing recipients flexibility to meet priority needs. Among households who gave to arts and cultural organizations, health and medical organizations, or educational institutions, large numbers gave unrestricted gifts (83%; 75%; 74% respectively).

“In times of crisis, Americans have historically responded quickly and generously to assist others and address urgent needs,” said Una Osili, Ph.D., Efroymson Chair in Philanthropy, Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies and Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “During the pandemic, unrestricted giving by affluent Americans supported continuing operations at many nonprofits, enabling them to continue serving their communities, and was a significant aspect of giving behavior during the pandemic. Additionally, many households expanded giving by donating to local businesses and individuals during the pandemic.”

Donors stayed connected with nonprofits despite lockdowns and social distancing

The vast majority of affluent Americans (88%) said that the lockdowns and social distancing, common in 2020, had little to no impact on their households’ philanthropy. However, the pandemic did change how donors engaged with the organizations they support, with nonprofits adapting to restrictions on personal interaction by shifting programming, events and other interaction into virtual formats. Nearly a third of affluent Americans (31%) reported that the organizations they supported reached out to them virtually. Among those households, 53% experienced more frequent contact via email, 43% experienced more frequent virtual events and galas, 32% experienced more frequent outreach via social media, and 27% experienced more frequent outreach via physical mail.

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